Careering through social work: Metaphors of continuing professional development

Cooper, Barry (2010). Careering through social work: Metaphors of continuing professional development. In: Seden, Janet; Morgan, Alun; Matthews, Sarah and McCormick, Michael eds. Professional Development in Social Work: Complex Issues in Practice. London: Routledge, pp. 178–184.


At some point in most people’s social work career they find themselves asking questions such as ‘how did I get into this?’ and where am I going?’ Existential introspection is not the sole preserve of social work, of course, although I suspect there is something exceptional about the complexities and demands of social work practice that leads to just this kind of self-questioning on a rather more regular basis than other professions. The responses to these heartfelt questions are often metaphorical such as ‘I feel trapped’ or ‘I’ve lost my way’ or ‘this is a window of opportunity’. I will be exploring continuing professional development (CPD) and careers through an examination of these kinds of questions and seven metaphorical ways of making sense that can be used. For example, over the years, I have been struck by how many times social workers have described their post-qualification study experiences as ‘jumping through hoops’: an interesting circus metaphor! In an earlier publication on this subject I began my arguments by proposing that the attitudes of professional workers to their CPD are a strong indicator of their approach to practice. I ended by asking readers whether professional practice is a ‘minimum-requirements activity’ or ‘an opportunity for life-long learning, challenge and growth?’(Cooper 2008c:235) and pointing out that the responsibility for choice lay with the individual. In essence, I think the choice remains the same but this chapter will help us to arrive there through a different kind of discussion.

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